So if you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that we are not, nowhere even near, self-sufficient. We still have to go to the grocery store, we have things like pet food that we have to buy, and we use a lot of parmesan cheese, which believe it or not I don't make myself. But something near self-sufficiency is our ultimate goal, and our move out here to the countryside nearly a year ago now was our first baby step in that direction. My main focus for the coming year will be to gain experience growing vegetables, as being able to feed yourself at least in some way is pretty much the most basic thing, but here is a slightly more official checklist of my goals for the next year, plus a few more long-term ones:
The Self-Sufficiency Checklist
1) Grow as much of our food as we possibly can on our small plot
This will also entail keeping track of how much food we produce and how much food we have to buy, so we get an idea of our yield, as well as the percentage we managed to provide ourselves. It also leads me to me next few goals, which have to do with learning how to stretch those veggies as far as possible:
2) Learn to can/preserve fruits and vegetables
The neighbor Richard has hooked us up with a used stérilisateur bought for cheap from an elderly lady who wasn't up to canning herself anymore, as well as quite a few jars.
3) Try to make jam from our cherries and plums
Last year I lacked the equipment, and I admit I got a bit scared off by all the complicated talk of pectin and acidity and wax discs and things, so I just froze the cherries and stored the plums in syrup (as well as trying my hand at a little plum moonshine, which tasted and looked great mixed with vodka in a martini glass with a couple of the plums floating in it; we weren't so happy the next morning, however, but I'm blaming that on the vodka not the moonshine).
4) Experiment with storing root vegetables
I haven't quite figured out yet where we'd put them, but I plan to try to keep carrots, parsnips, etc in sand-filled boxes.
5) Use the compost we've been working on in next year's garden
6) Get free horse manure from the riding club on the other side of the village
7) Bake more of our own bread
We have already given this a try a few times with pretty amazing results, perhaps just beginners' luck, pulling off a large round loaf of crusty bread, spelt rolls, and pizza dough. I should really do this more, though I am slightly torn as I also want to support the local boulangerie (bakery), the only shop left in the village (all the rest have closed down, unable to compete with the hypermarkets). Come to think of it:
8) Shop at hypermarkets as little as possible
We already get our fresh stuff from local box schemes, etc, but we still use the hypermarket about once or twice a month to stock up on bulk things like canned tomatoes, rice, cleaning products, etc. I've wondered what I would do eventually about rice as relates to self-sufficiency - would I forgo it? try to grow my own?
9) Cut out anything with E-numbers or other processed snacks
We eat very well on the whole, but we have a weakness for impulse-buying things like Malteasers. We are thinking of setting a rule - the only snacks/sweets we are allowed to eat are those we have made ourselves. I think I see a lot of brownies in our future...
10) Learn from Richard how to slaughter and prepare chickens and rabbits
I am the biggest softy and animal-lover ever. This one is going to be difficult.
11) Cut out cleaning and personal care products that are toxic and full of nasty chemicals (and expensive)
So far I have switched to a natural shampoo and natural laundry detergent, but there is a long way to go on this one, and it usually means more expensive rather than money-saving and self-sufficient, so I am going to look into natural cleaning products, etc that you make yourself or just use, like baking soda and lemons. Even if you don't take into account the chemicals, normal shampoo and shower gel is ridiculously expensive. I saw a documentary on shower gel last year and was shocked to find it is ninety-something percent water, and the rest is chemically-created scent and a petroleum-based cleansing agent. First of all, ew, I was bathing myself in gasoline (well, not really, to get technical, but that is the mental image that was conjured up), and second of all, from that point on I refused to pay €4.35 for 250ml of shower gel, 230ml of which is water. We now use savon de Marseille (which you can also get in liquid form).
12) Knit something (other than a scarf)
My mom taught me the basics of knitting when they came to visit last summer. She has been making some pretty awesome stuff like slippers, mittens and hats with crazy patterns (apparently traditional Norwegian designs, I am told, see below!), which I would love to be able to do. So far I have only managed to get a scarf halfway done. Unfortunately this is not so easy to do now that we have the puppies, who are driven to the point of distraction by the smell of wool. Perhaps I will create a new sport, extreme knitting: first round, trying to concentrate on your knitting pattern while two puppies are jumping at you trying to eat your yarn, second round while someone throws dodgeballs at you, third round while skydiving...any takers? Anyway, there is just something magical about taking a ball of string and two sticks and managing to create something that fits the odd shapes and contours of the human body.
13) Forage for some of our food
You can't get cheaper than free. Richard is also a mushroom expert, and while the whole if-you-get-it-wrong-you-could-eat-a-poisonous-one-and-die-a-horrible-painful-death thing is a little scary, we learned that the best eating mushroom, the Cep (porcini), is nearly impossible to mistake, and managed to pick a good dozen (always having Richard verify them just to be sure) last fall at the very end of their season. Next year we plan to make the most of this, as well as other things like nettles, which are extremely good for you and can be used to make green pasta, as well as nettle beer apparently.
14) Learn more about herbal medicine and maybe try to grow some medicinal plants
Wouldn't it be great to just go out in your backyard and grab something to make a herbal tea when you've got a headache, and not have to run to the store?
My long-term goals include:
1) Keep laying and eating chickens and maybe geese - I'm dying to have my own eggs
2) Moving on to rabbits - the ultimate sustainable (and tasty!) meat source
3) And...maybe even goats, so I could:
4) Make my own goat cheese and butter
5) Keep bees to use honey instead of commercially bought sugar
6) Have a poly tunnel to extend the veg growing season
7) Feed the dogs with scraps from the butcher and elsewhere rather than buying canned and dry dog food